The Haunting Presence of Absences

The heart breaking crises that hit both rural and urban India cannot be described with words. On one side we can see cries of ailing people due to lack of bed space, oxygen, medicines, doctors, nurses etc., and on the other side we find people struggling to give dignified final rites to their beloved whom they have lost to the deadly virus. The presence of a lethal virus has exposed several of our false idolatries. We are hit by several absences everywhere. But the most important absence is the absence of leadership. Given our plight, Banu pratap Meheta seems to have been proved right. He had courageously declared in one of his columns in the Indian Express way back in June 2020 when he said, ‘The Prime minister evokes a deep adulation of his supporters. It should be clear by now whatever the adulation is, it is not on account of his leadership. His leadership is totally missing from Covid to China from economy to society, there is politics of illusion and evasive silence’. His heartless silence has become louder amidst tragedy, loss and death inflicted by the second wave of coronavirus. The struggling people feel abandoned from all sides and the leadership at top appears rudderless or at best lost into insensitivities of self-idolatry. The virus seems to have not just found out our people but it has found out our Government and its leaders at the helm almost everywhere in our country. Banu Pratap Mehta seems to have nailed the point ahead of time in the same column where he ends with the words, ‘India is heading in uncharted waters, with no leadership at the helm but just a simulacra of one’.

We are being haunted by the virus and cannot be fully self-present to ourselves, our families, and workplaces as we are in a constant mode of anxiety of catching the infection. The prowling virus has imprisoned us into our rooms and homes away from life as usual. The virus has almost snuffed life out of us as it does with those that circumvent its infection. It is depleting and squeezing vitality and vibrancy from everything that we hold with great value and pride. It has a cancelling effect on everything that we held as robust and strong this far. Our experience seems to have lost reality and we seem to be living in a simulated world. It appears that Karl Marx was right when he said ‘ All that is solid melts in the air ‘ . We seem to have reached this melting point in our country. Our pride in our reigning nationalism, triumphant political ideology , its propaganda factories and the cultic leadership of our Prime Minister are all appearing to be crushingly done. With the advent of the second wave, we are all convinced that something beautiful is dead in our society. When death is multiplying itself everywhere like the virus with speed and aggression, life has never been so helpless to all of us. We find ourselves into a pit and the only weapon left with us seems to be hope that we have confidence in, feeling that it might enable us to put the pieces of life together. Hope is last to die and we cannot allow it to die early in this fight against a lethal invisible enemy.

The plight of almost everyone in India is also shared by us in Goa. The virus has played havoc with our lives and several Goans have lost their precious life fighting their battle against the infection of the virus. Indeed the virus and death is haunting us like never before. Our High Court has identified a dark hour between 1 AM and 6 AM when we have experienced unprecedented deaths of several Goans in our premier Government Hospital. The growing numbers of the dying people is alarming and is sending piercing shivers down the spines of all Goans. The Government claims that the tragic deaths are occurring because of logistic reasons that generate conditions of lack of oxygen to the ailing patients. One of the MLAs of the ruling party called these acts of grave negligence as capable of murder. Yet we only saw passing on the blame and a conflict between the CM and the HM. The inefficient health establishment in Goa seems to point that what we are facing is a simulacra of health care with no medicine, oxygen, beds and other facilities that are vital to fight this battle against Covid-19. We are dealing with a health system that has gone missing due to its life saving abilities.

The pathetic condition that we find ourselves in has brought us to a reality check. What we experience as absence of oxygen, medicines, beds, healthcare, leadership and vision in this fight against the virus was real all the time. In fact, we fooled ourselves that we have a robust health care system as well as that we are in safe hands of strong leaders that run our Governments. Our feelings, experiences and values seem to be simulated and in a short time we learnt to live in the simulacra of the divisive ideology and see everything with a narrow majoritarian nationalism. We failed to see what was presented to us as new India was simply a mirage and hiding place of all the absences that have become haunting presences in our fight against covid-19. We acutely feel the real presence of the absence of oxygen, medicines, beds, doctors, health care givers and above all the absence of our political leaders and of course the leader of leaders, the man at the helm.

The virus has brought together all that we kept apart following strict thinking that thought through categories of absence and presence. All absences that we held against others were not real. They were simply simulations of ourselves. We cannot find ourselves mirrored in those we consider as others (absent ourselves). Because of this absence, we named them as anti-national and outcastes. We enjoyed the hollow of the simulacra for some time now. Thanks to the virus we are brought closer to reality. All that we now think as absent is present and is afflicting us and our dear ones badly. Thus absence today is not a simulation. It is real. Ask the one who is waiting for an absent bed for his/her loved one? What we construe as absence is a bundle of presence of acute fear, pain, distress and helplessness. Our helpless condition might enable us to see that the hollowness of the orgy of simulated power and pride is nothing but our own enslavement. As we cope with several of these rather rude and harsh absences, let us do all we can to save the lives of all Indians and Goans in whatever way we can.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao